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MIT Technology Review

Anti-aging drugs

April 2, 2020
YOSHI SODEOKA
Yoshi Sodeoka

Anti-aging drugs

  • Why it matters

    A number of different diseases, including cancer, heart disease, and dementia, could potentially be treated by slowing aging.
  • Key players

    Unity Biotechnology, Alkahest, Mayo Clinic, Oisín Biotechnologies, Siwa Therapeutics
  • Availability

    Less than 5 years

Drugs that try to treat ailments by targeting a natural aging process in the body have shown promise.

The first wave of a new class of anti-aging drugs have begun human testing. These drugs won’t let you live longer (yet) but aim to treat specific ailments by slowing or reversing a fundamental process of aging.

The drugs are called senolytics—they work by removing certain cells that accumulate as we age. Known as “senescent” cells, they can create low-level inflammation that suppresses normal mechanisms of cellular repair and creates a toxic environment for neighboring cells.

In June, San Francisco–based Unity Biotechnology reported initial results in patients with mild to severe osteoarthritis of the knee. Results from a larger clinical trial are expected in the second half of 2020. The company is also developing similar drugs to treat age-related diseases of the eyes and lungs, among other conditions.

Senolytics are now in human tests, along with a number of other promising approaches  targeting the biological processes that lie at the root of aging and various diseases.

A company called Alkahest injects patients with components found in young people’s blood and says it hopes to halt cognitive and functional decline in patients suffering from mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. The company also has drugs for Parkinson’s and dementia in human testing. 

And in December, researchers at Drexel University College of Medicine even tried to see if a cream including the immune-suppressing drug rapamycin could slow aging   in human skin.

The tests reflect researchers’ expanding efforts to learn if the many diseases associated with getting older—such as heart diseases, arthritis, cancer, and dementia—can be hacked to delay their onset.